STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Russia's ruling party fared worse than expected in a parliamentary election yesterday. Incomplete results show the party barely winning a majority. And that is a sharp drop in support for the United Russia Party from the last election, which is seen as a setback for Vladimir Putin, the man who has dominated Russia for more than a decade. It's his party.
To talk about the vote we've called Masha Lippman, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. She's on the line from there. Welcome back to the program.
MASHA LIPPMAN: Thank you.
INSKEEP: I have to begin, Masha Lippman, by saying that I was surprised that it's even possibly for the opposition to do well in elections in Russia anymore, given all the restrictions that have been put in place.
LIPPMAN: Well, it should be pointed out that we're talking about the so-called systemic opposition, those parties that had been allowed to have a representation in the Russian Duma. We also have the non-systemic opposition, those marginalized political groups that have been effectively barred from the political field by the Kremlin's politics. The systemic opposition, the three parties, the Communist, Zhirinovsky, and the so-called A Just Russia Party, all improved their showing at the expense of United Russia.
INSKEEP: Are you saying that even the communists did well in this election?
LIPPMAN: Oh, the Communists did much better than the previous time. It had 12 percent of the vote four years ago and 20 percent this time. Also, all parities claim that this election was fraudulent, and indeed allegations of fraud and manipulations are very numerous. It can be suggested that in fact the showing of United Russia was even lower.
INSKEEP: So there are restrictions on the media. Some of the political parties have been pushed aside, marginalized. Not all that many parties remained, and Putin's party had control of the levers of power and still didn't do very well, even with these allegations of fraud. What is behind what would seem to be a lot of loss of support for Vladimir Putin?
LIPPMAN: Well, I think people are increasingly disgruntled. They actually had been disgruntled by the policies - polls had constantly showed it - by corruption, lawlessness, its use of authority by the police and by the government, to mention just a few. But for a while this did not get in the way of people voting for the status quo.
INSKEEP: Yet this time around I think the disgruntlement was exacerbated by the way the two leaders, Putin and Medvedev, traded places without even pretending that this decision was based on the consultations or taking the opinion of the people. And people realized they were held in full contempt.
LIPPMAN: And also, there's a Putin fatigue. His comeback caused the reaction that was fairly common that can be worded very simply - not for another 12 years. This caused an electoral behavior that can be described as defiance. And actually the more United Russia anxiously tried by fraud and hooks and crooks to increase the showing, the more defiant people got, especially in the days, last days leading to the election.
INSKEEP: Let's just remind people what you're talking about here. Vladimir Putin became president of Russia for two terms, couldn't serve again, and so was perceived as putting his friend Dmitry Medvedev into that position while Putin became prime minister; now plans to come back as president in the next presidential election. What are his chances given all of this?
LIPPMAN: Well, actually, his chances are very good. Putin's popularity rating is just under 70 percent, an enviable number for any leader in a democratic country. The common policy over the past decade has been to clear the political field from any conceivable contender, from any conceivable challenge to Putin. And it now pays off. People do not see any alternative figures. And even if between now and March, when the presidential election is scheduled, Putin loses a few more points, he is still sure to win.
INSKEEP: Masha Lippman is an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Thanks very much.
LIPPMAN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.